State legislature approves funding for UC medical school in the Valley

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Finding a primary care doctor or specialist in Merced County is much harder than many other areas across California.

The county's Health Officer, Dr. Salvador Sandoval, says there are only about 45 doctors per every 100,000 patients. That's one of the worst ratios in the state.

Dr. Sandoval adds, "Merced also has many physicians who are retirement age or close to retirement, and that's concerning because we need to replace these health providers."

The county's 2018 Health Needs Assessment found more than half of adults reported some type of difficulty or delay in obtaining healthcare services, and the number one barrier was simply getting an appointment.

Assemblymember Adam Gray says, "It doesn't do you a lot of good to have an insurance card or health coverage, which gets most of the attention in the debate around health care if you have nowhere to use that insurance."

That's why Gray has been pushing to establish a UC medical school in the Valley for years.

The goal is to recruit local students, train them close to home, and match them with local residencies so they will stay and practice in their own community.

The vision has evolved into a partnership that would use facilities at both UC Merced and UCSF Fresno.

On Monday, the state legislature approved $15 million per year in ongoing funding to support that plan.

Gray says, "I couldn't be more excited. I hope the governor embraces it. It was this governor who put the line item for $15 million in the budget back in January. The legislature has upheld its part of the bargain and kept it in the budget, and hopefully it will get the governor's signature."

Dr. Sandoval agrees the local medical school could go a long way toward improving the health of local residents by increasing access to services.

He says, "Many needs are ignored, chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, catching cancer in time all those are things that are hurt by not having enough physicians.

Gray says is optimistic the funding will remain in the final budget, despite the fact the state is facing about a $54 billion deficit as a result of the pandemic.
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